Hard Scrabble — A New Year’s Challenges: We Are CASA
Reflections on Community by Gustavo Torres, Executive Director
CASA is “house” in Spanish, and it is a very big one, opening its doors to Spanish-speaking immigrants from other parts of the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and beyond. Headquartered in Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C., CASA also has welcome centers in Baltimore; York, Pennsylvania; and Woodbridge, Virginia.
CASA is itself a success story, but what it points to is the success of its members. Whether learning to read, finding a decent job, obtaining a driver’s license, or registering to vote, CASA members are building skills and contacts they need to support their families financially and to participate in political decisions affecting their lives.
You have dedicated your life to social transformation. What does that mean to you?
We are changing the lives of our members and communities, both the individual and the society. When we help them become a citizen, when we work for a minimum wage of $15, when we engage them in productive activities, we transform the lives of our members and our society. CASA was founded in 1991, so we have worked for 27 years to transform communities and families.
How is CASA helping its members transform their lives?
Transforming the society is very important for us. We are transforming society when we change a system that is not helping our families, when we pass legislation that is impacting families, like healthcare or comprehensive immigration reform or minimum wage. That is what I mean by social change and social transformation. When we help our members become citizens, when we help them obtain a driver’s license, when we help them find much better jobs, that for us is social transformation.
We believe that in this extraordinary moment in which we are living, when we work with African-Americans, Latinos, and other communities impacted by the social situation we are facing, we are making a difference and we are transforming our society. It is important that people are civic-engaged, so we are registering people to vote so that we can bring about social change that is critical and meaningful to these communities.
What role does fundraising play in your efforts to transform society?
Fundraising is critical. It is essential to accomplish our goals, our mission, and vision. Without the support of our contributors, our foundations, and the local government, we cannot realize the vision we have. We know and we understand that fundraising is so critical that we respond immediately to any questions or concerns our friends who give us contributions raise. We draw on different sources of funding including our members, the low-income people who participate in our services. They contribute every single year to our organization.
How do you plan to achieve social transformation on a larger scale such as in the region?
Our board of directors approved a five-year plan called “From Resistance to Victory.” We are in the middle of an extraordinary attack. Our community is attacked every single day. The communities we are working with now—the African-American community [and] the Latin American and immigrant communities—feel they are under attack, so that we believe it is very important not just that we resist but that we win.
That is why we believe it is very important to register thousands and thousands of people to vote in the next election. That is why it is very important that our communities work together to make sure we fight back, to educate many, many people about our rights as Latinos, African-Americans, immigrants, and minorities. We need to work together to make sure we fight back, and it is very important to keep building power so that we win elections and we change policies that impact our families.
We need a way to unite not just our region but our country. So we are going to bring new policymakers who really care about our community. It is very important to keep providing services and registering people to vote.
That is why we are optimistic. We have been resisting in the last two years, but now it is time to win. We need a way to unite not just our region but our country, so that we are going to bring new policymakers who really care about our community. So it is very important to keep providing services and registering people to vote. We are going to fight back the hate and the attacks and protect our community. That is the vision for the next three to five years. It is very important to work as a community together to accomplish that.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Thank you very much for this opportunity. We are very hopeful not only here in our country but in Latin America and in other countries.
We can work together to change a system that is oppressing our people and our community. We believe by working together, we can accomplish that change.
Thank you for this opportunity to communicate with you, and thank you very much for your extraordinary work.
All photos and videos by Demond McWilliams.
Demond McWilliams is the director of membership marketing for AFP. He has been with AFP for more than 18 years, working in the chapter services and marketing departments.
A former journalist and Capitol Hill speechwriter, Susan Drake Swift is the editor of Advancing Philanthropy.